China’s plan to be the dominant power in space is moving at breathtaking speed. The US needs to wake up, officials say.

China’s plan to be the dominant power in space is moving at breathtaking speed. The US needs to wake up,...

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A rocket carrying China’s second module for its Tiangong space station lifts off from Wenchang spaceport in southern China on July 24, 2022.

  • China is intensifying its bid to supplant the US as a major space power. 
  • It is “moving at breathtaking speed,” according to the US Space Force commander.
  • China could use its control of space to target US satellites. 

After a meeting with Japanese and South Korean officials in Tokyo on Friday, US Space Force commander Gen. Stephen Whiting warned about a growing threat.

China, he said, is “moving at breathtaking speed in space,” and is developing a range of weapons that threaten America’s space supremacy, reported Stars and Stripes.

“They’re also using space to make their terrestrial forces — their army, their navy, their marine corps, their air force — more precise, more lethal, and more far-ranging,” he added.

It’s one of a series of warnings from top US military officials in recent months about the growing threat in space posed by China.

There is a very real risk, they say, that the US could soon lose its status as the world’s dominant space power.

“We are at a pivotal moment in history,” Troy Meink, principal deputy director of the National Reconnaissance Office, which builds and operates the US fleet of spy satellites, said at a recent event in Colorado, as quoted by Space.com.

“For the first time in decades, US leadership in space and space technology is being challenged,” Meink added. “Our competitors are actively seeking ways to threaten our capabilities, and we see this every day.”

They echo comments by Gen. Chance Saltzman, Chief of Space Operations at United States Space Force, last year warned against taking US space supremacy for granted.

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“I’m worried about a far more subtle form of complacency. One that grows out of the comfort of continuity, the comfort of our expertise, the comfort of our successes. What we have done and how we have done it has worked and worked well, but I fear we think it will work well forever,” he said.

Space today is “far more contested and US access to space capabilities is not a given,” Saltzman said.

US satellites under threat

In recent years, China has developed a sophisticated military program in space, where for decades, the US has been the dominant force.

Space is where military analysts believe the first shots could be fired in a war between major powers, with the crucial satellite systems that control military and civilian communications as the target.

China has created technology capable of targeting US satellites, as well as for better monitoring Earth and developing coordination between land, sea, air, and space operations.

At a congressional hearing in February, Whiting said that China is also developing a “hypersonic glide vehicle” and other weapons capable of evading air defense systems and satellite warnings.

Dominic Chiu, an analyst with the Eurasia Group, told Business Insider that plans for space warfare were at the heart of China’s recent military reorganization.

“China’s leadership believes elements such as space and cyber will play a bigger role, and that making them more operationally efficient is crucial to preparedness and success,” he said.

Air Force Lieutenant General Gregory Guillot (left) and US Space Force Lieutenant General Stephen Whiting (right) on July 26, 2023.
Air Force Lieutenant General Gregory Guillot (L) and US Space Force Lieutenant General Stephen Whiting (R) on July 26, 2023.

The plans place China’s aerospace units directly under the control of central command and mirror the US’ creation of a Space Force under former President Donald Trump in 2018, said Chiu.

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One of the main fronts in the rivalry is the race to the moon, and US officials are warning that China, under the guise of scientific research, could be planning on seizing control of regions of the lunar surface as part of its plans for military dominance.

With the Artemis mission, the US is planning on sending astronauts to the moon for the first time in 50 years. But China has its own moon landing program, and US lawmakers at a congressional hearing in January warned that delays to NASA’s plans to get astronauts to the lunar surface by 2022 mean that China could get there first.

“The country that lands first will have the ability to set a precedent for whether future lunar activities are conducted with openness and transparency or in a more restricted manner,” said Rep. Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

Brig. Gen. Anthony Mastalir, commander of US Space Forces Indo-Pacific, told a conference in March that China could be planning to use its presence on the moon as part of covert plans to target US satellites.

“As in other domains, the US is the established power, and China is seeking to catch and, if possible, overtake it, using its race to the moon to increase funding,” Graeme Thompson, an analyst at the Eurasia Group, told BI.

The US and allies monitor ‘deep space’ for threats

The US and its allies are responding to the threat by developing plans to monitor areas of space that China is seeking to dominate for potential threats.

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In December, the AUKUS alliance, which comprises the US, Australia, and the UK, said it would develop radars to monitor threats in “deep space,” around 22,000 miles from Earth.

“Both the US and China view outer space along with cyberspace as new and interlinked military domains, and both feature in US, UK, and Australian collaboration under the AUKUS agreement,” said Thompson.

According to reports, the Pentagon is intensifying its bid to develop technology capable of countering China’s plans to take out US satellites.

Tory Bruno, chief executive of United Launch Alliance, told NBC News that engineers are developing maneuverable satellites that could move out of the way of Chinese satellites that are fitted with robotic arms to take them out of orbit.

The stakes in the race for the dominance of space could not be higher, say experts. Whoever wins will not just have control over the moon, but will likely be the top power on Earth. And through complacency, America may fast lose its advantage, say critics.

“The truth is, whoever controls the space domain will dominate the future global economy,” wrote analyst Arthur Herman for the conservative-leaning Hudson Institute in February.

“If America was the preeminent space power from Presidents John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan, we’ve let our edge slip away, while China and Russia aim to displace us all together.”

Read the original article on Business Insider

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